The City of Kothos
Kothian Triad

Chapter Headings | Prologue | Glossary | Creston | Bella To | Tuppa To | Batuma Kan | Wen Ta | Sal Li | Cleophi Tan
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Creston Meets the Bow and Arrow

The speck in the distance started to head for the high ground. It would be a good place to settle for camp that night, thought Brohurst. He dismounted and walked over to his companion sitting crossed legged on the ground. "Is that him, "he asked?

Goldamn could pick out a flying lizard in a flock on the horizon of a desert and have the drib for supper. "I believe so, the horse matches what we were told to look for, and so does the rider."

"Tell me what you see," said Brohurst.

"The man is of a dark skin, brown. It looks natural and not from spending time in the sun. His hair is black and stretches to a short beard. I think I see hair above the lips. I cannot tell his height for his sits on his mount but he seems slightly taller than most. The horse is black with a white nose."

Brohurst smiled. Yes, that did fit the description of their prey. It is almost to easy. But it gave them a chance to practice their skills. They have been tracking this man for three days and he has given them a good hunt. But they are trained Masters in the Mercenary Guild. He is, Brohurst the Arrow, 35th Degree Archer and 20th Degree Spear man, trained in the Martial Arts at the City of Kothos. And his partner Goldamn the Bow, Master Tracker. Nothing could hide from his eyes.

Fate had already decided this game. They would capture this man and return him to their employer, receive their bounty and be on their way.

Creston pulled his horse to a stop as he approached the crop of trees at the top of the hill. Tired and hungry, this seemed to be as good a place as any to camp. He dismounted and looked at his surroundings. The top of a hill with about twenty or so trees cresting the top, a green meadow stretching across one side and an assortment of tall bushes came up scattered in bunches up the other side. The grass was thigh high, green and sweet smelling. The sunset had reddened the sky as it touched the ground in the horizon. He pulled out some dried meats and fruit from his pouch and settled under the trees.

He thinks he sees movement in the distance. Something on the horizon? Can't be sure. Nothing, he decides and starts his meal. When done he made a small fire and found somewhere to lay his head. He pulled out his sword, closed his eyes and was soon asleep, dreaming of Atina.

He met Atina in the last town he had cause to visit. She was everything he wanted in a woman. At least for as long as he would be in town. Unfortunately her father took unkindly to Creston not wishing to become his son-in-law despite having already consummated the relationship. After a small scuffle in which Creston disarmed the distraught father and knocked senseless Atina's protective uncle, he decided it was time to find another town or city to grace with his presence.

While he lived over some of his more pleasurable memories with Atina's dream self, there came a sudden pain in his ribs, jarring him awake.

"Move slowly," came from the other end of the spear probing his ribs. The man controlling the spear had a larger build than Creston. The red skin of his face was covered with a thick blond mustache and beard. The braided metal chest plate and earth colored loincloth and sandals he wore identified him as a member of the Mercenary Guild, and pretty high rank. Another man is seated on a mount just outside the firelight.

Creston is not a member of the Guild but he did know a few of their signals that should protect one member from another, if presented with just this kind of situation. His hand gave the signal that would reveal him as a guild member. The man with the spear lowered it but still kept it ready as he reached to give Creston a hand. Creston knew that this is the second part of the signal and he would have to grasp the offered hand in the correct manner to prove his membership or the spear would be back in his ribs. He took the hand with his little finger tucked inside the rest and was pulled to his feet.

The man must have accepted his grasp as the correct reply for his face suddenly brightened and he said, "A brother of the Guild is always a welcome sight, from where do your ride?"

Creston relaxed a bit, but realized that went to easy. There may be more signals he didn't know about and he didn't know how far he could keep that up. He walked towards his horse keeping an eye on the man still in the shadows, "From a small town about three days travel to the south, I decided the climate up north would suit me better, considering the time of the year." He pulled out a dripskin of wine and offered it to the warrior, "and who has the pleasure of sharing my wine?"

The other man dismounted and started tying down his mount as the first introduced them, "I am Brohurst the Arrow, and this is my friend and companion, Goldamn the Bow, Brothers of the Guild and loyal comrades in arms. We are in service of a merchant who wishes the head of someone who has wronged his family honor. The local guard refused to become involved so he hired our services."

Creston shrugged and said, "I am not in anyone's service at the moment. Looking for employers is not as easy as it was during the God Wars of our father's day or even that of the Empire wars of the east. Everyone wanted trained warriors then. Peace in this region has reduced me to dried meats and whatever game happens to grace the end of my arrows."

Goldamn came to the fire with them. He stood as tall as Creston and about the same build. He is dressed the same as Brohurst, clean shaven, and green eyes. He has a tattoo of an eagle next to his left eye. Creston took his hand in the customary Guild fashion and introduced himself to the two men.

"We know who you are. We have been tracking you for three days brother. As I said, we have a contract with the merchant to bring you back, we didn't know you were a brother when we made the contract. And you know that fact must not matter. A guildsman must honor his contract. You may have the trial if you wish, and while you are young and probably quick, both Goldamn and I would certainly win."

Sounded like the usual boast to Creston, but he was unarmed and didn't know the rules of this trail. But it seemed to be his only chance at the moment. His choices seemed to be give in to what they say or go through this trial and maybe get off. He looked at Brohurst and said, "Trial."

Brohurst smiled, "Choose your weapon. You are challenging a Master, so the weapon of choice is yours."

Creston replied, "Knives."

As a young man in his homeland of Bastoon he had been in a Cashton. A group of youngsters roaming the pathways of the village under the guise of protecting certain sections of the village for their own from the other cashtons. Knifes are the preferred weapon and the initiation into a cashton is the procurement of a knife from a member of a rival cashton, always taken by skill with the blade. It usually ended in a prominent scar, but a death is not considered unusual. Creston had killed his opponent. The boy was four summers his senior and attacked him after Creston had drawn first blood in a fair duel. Cashtons are a right of passage to manhood in the village of his birth. Once part of a Cashton, you are always a part of it.

The firelight flickered the only source of light and it touched lightly on the blades as Goldamn and he faced off in the small opening of the camp. Goldamn smiled and moved to the left and tossed the blade into his other hand and then back again. He seemed to be just as good with one as the other. But Creston learned long ago not to concern himself with the hand holding the blade as much as the blade itself. Creston stood on the balls of his feet and shifted his weight back and forth waiting for an attack. His usual style is defensive. Analyze the attack and counter. It had held for him in the past, but he had never fought a master before.

Suddenly Goldamn's blade shot out towards Creston's right shoulder. Creston dropped the should under the blade while sending his knife up at the underside of Goldamn's arm. Goldamn grabbed his hand with his free hand was off balance and Creston rested his hand free and fell back to give himself some distance again. Goldamn switched hands and moved in forcing Creston to parry several thrusts. Goldamn was fast and it took Creston a moment to set up a move where he spun around outside Goldamn's strike hoping to attack Goldamn's exposed side. Goldamn escaped by falling into the momentum of his strike rolling and spinning to face Creston again, with a smile on his face. "Good move," said Brohurst from the sidelines, "but the Bow is just testing you as you test him."

Creston ignored the commentary and feinted cautiously to the right, then leaped at Goldamn with a fierce cry. Goldamn grabbed Creston's arm as he came at him and used the force of Creston's leap to carry him past and into the tall grass. Creston rose out of the grass and came to his feet to see Goldamn smiling again. He felt a breeze and looked down. Goldamn had cut off his loin cloth as he threw him to the ground leaving Creston nude.

He was playing with him. Creston cursed and lunged again at the Bow. Goldamn sidestepped the thrust and hit Creston in the back of the head with the haft of his knife. Creston got up slowly and rubbing the spot where he was hit. He is being played with and he doesn't like it.

Creston growled, "Do you plan on playing with me to prove something or are we going to hold this trial to something besides a mockery of combat? I will most certainly kill you if you continue to taunt me with these insult blows, no matter how the trial ends."

Goldamn smiled and Brohurst called out again, "Spoken like a true Guildsman. But if you cannot even draw blood in the trial, how do you plan on killing in a true battle for life. I believe you had better worry about--"

He was cut short by Creston throwing his knife towards him. Brohurst fell and rolled in the grass to his left coming up cursing, "By the balls of Kavon."

Goldamn had been as surprised as his companion at the change in direction of Creston's attack. Which made him less prepared for Creston's silent charge, crashing into the larger man with all his speed and strength. Both went rolling in the grass in a tumble of legs, arms, grunts and curses. Creston went for the knife because he knew his to be somewhere on the ground behind him. Goldamn tried to untangle himself from an unexpected attack.

But Goldamn was an experienced warrior and never really lost control of his weapon. Creston soon found himself beneath Goldamn as his opponent used the leverage he gained in the struggle to get the upper hand. He pressed the knife towards Creston's neck. Creston used all his strength to hold the knife at bay. At the last second he twisted his body and let the knife fall into the soft dirt underneath his head, while using the leverage he gained by the twist of his body to push Goldamn off of him.

As he scrambled, looking for his knife in the tall grass, he heard Goldamn right himself with a grunt. As he reached for his own knife he saw a flash of firelight cut his hand and imbed itself into the ground next to his knife. It was Goldamn's knife that the light reflected from as it cut his hand from the throw of it's master. Brohurst's spear cut him off from both knives, and the look on the man's face was one of humor.

Creston looked at the small cut in his hand and cursed. He had lost. He heard Brohurst laughing loudly, "That was a very good trick. Throwing the focus of violence to surprise Goldamn. I would like to know how you knew I would dodge the blade. But it doesn't matter, the end of the battle was obvious. For as I told you, you are fighting a Master. It takes more than a few tricks to defeat a Master trained in the fine art of war by the Kothians. Those witches make good warriors as well as magic."

Creston picked up his knife and started to clean the blade off the dirt that had clung to it from being imbedded in the ground. He walked over to his loincloth and put it on also. "I will give you your due. I have lost in a fair combat and will give you no trouble. So I must endure the stale wit and ugly face of Yalpsid again so that a Guild member may collect his silver."

"No need to insult us with the taunt of silver monger. You lost in a fair duel, so you are subject to the whims of your master," said Brohurst. "A member of the Guild may make his way selling any for whom there is a bounty, even another member of the Guild. If you are a true member of the Guild, you will escape the dealings of Yalpsid after we are gone, so it matters not what we do."

"I have always had a problem with those who would force me to call them master," answered Creston, "so let us get on with your fantasy."

"Oh ho," said Brohurst in a surprised tone. "It seems that a lower member of the Guild has no liking for showing respect to his betters. May Somem and Sgol, the gods of the Guild, have mercy on your soul for such disrespect. Or may haps we have an imposter of the Guild in our mists."

"The truth be known, I am not a member," answered Creston.

Brohurst replied, "If not for the entertainment you supplied tonight and the bounty we will collect in returning you, the punishment for your actions would be death. It may still be if I don't learn how you knew of our Guilds signals. Speak or my spear will cleanse you of the knowledge for this lifetime."

Creston smiled. "A woman of my past had obviously bedded on of your brethren. He was not as secretive of your mysteries as you. She told me of how they used to use the signals in love play. She had missed the games they played after he had left her and she saw not the need to keep his oath of secrecy in his absence."

"`A brother's lips pried open by the legs of a woman, and a woman's opened by the key of a man's loins,'" said Goldamn. "It may one day be the reason for the fall of the civilization that man is trying to create out of the chaos the gods have brought forth for us to live in. The source of a power between the legs of both man and woman may one day bring us all down."

"Philosophy is for books, courtiers and history, brother," replied Brohurst, "we now have a bounty to collect." He looked at Creston and said, "You will forgive our need to tie you up for the night. You are not of the Brotherhood and may not feel a need to adhere to the dictates of the duel."

Creston smiled at Atina when she peeked out from behind the curtains. She smiled and meekly waved. His hands are bound behind his back and there is a noose around his neck controlled by Brohurst. A very effective way of keeping him in line. A quick jerk of Brohurst's end effectively cut off the air and blood to his head.

They had arrived in the town at midday and immediately came to the Bow and Arrow's employer's home. A one story wooden building in the center of a town of similar type buildings. His name, Yalpsid. A short man, but made up for that by being very wide. His plump cheeks and beady eyes are surrounded by bushy eyebrows and mustache. And his full lips crowned the weakest chin Creston had ever seen.

"I see you have found the dog and brought him to me." smiled Yalpsid, "Well, it seems the great Bow and Arrow live up to their reputations after all."

Goldamn frowned, "Who has been saying different? I will split their bellies open and feed them their intestines."

"No, no," answered the round man, "I was speaking figuratively. No one has besmirched your name. I was simply overjoyed at your quick service."

"Indeed," replied Brohurst, "The man has very little honor. He lied to us, but we saw through his deceit and brought him to you as promised. Now there is a matter of payment. I believe the price was 30 coppers apiece and expenses. Well, we had to use a copper for food to take and another-"

"Yes, yes, all in due time," interrupted Yalpsid, "This dog is at my feet. For what he has done to my family honor, yet alone my poor daughter, I would have paid anything."

"I'm not quite at your feet, Yalpsid," said Creston, "I stand. And your family had very little honor before I came along. What passed between your daughter and I was mutually enjoyed. This assumption that I wou-"

"No one gave you permission to speak," yelled Yalpsid, and he slapped Creston across the mouth. "My daughter has hidden in her rooms since you left her. I would kill you now if I didn't want you to suffer before death." He took Creston's face in his pudgy hand and hissed, "And you will die, dog."

Creston spat in his face. "Back away from me, dog. You smell like dung, and it's bad enough that I have to suffer your presence let alone your smell." Brohurst pulled on the noose and Creston is suddenly choking. After he had fallen to his knees from lack of air, the noose was loosened so that he could breath.

"Show some respect for our employer, dog." He turned casually towards Yalpsid, "Now about payment."

"Yes," said Yalpsid, "but first you must place our good friend here in the custody of the magistrate. Seems that horse out there is reported stolen, a crime punishable by death in this town."

"In a snakes ass," interrupted Creston, "I bought that horse for a good price two days before I left."

"Odd," smiled Yalpsid, "my brother, the blacksmith that you bought the horse from? He says he loaned it to you while you were in town because you were courting his niece. He was shocked when he heard that you were only using her to get a free horse. Of course he turned your name and description over to the proper authorities."

Creston glared at the fat old man. Yalpsid turned to Brohurst, "You men turn him over to the magistrate and meet me over at the inn. Drinks are on me. I have a couple of things to take care of and I'll be right along."

Brohurst pulled at the noose and the three of them turned to the door and left.

Creston had been in cells before. This one is just like most of the others. Most small towns had them to hold undesirables that roam into towns on occasion. It was an edict from the Hcrat Empire that all towns have them to hold people that are to be held for the Hcratian Magistrate to judge. Part of the Hcratian plan to build a civilized world or something like that.

This one had your basic bucket in the corner that is emptied once a day if you are lucky and some dirty straw on the stone floor. Wooden walls, no windows and light when they open the little door in the door that they threw him in. Shows how the empire has influenced the small towns. A source of pride in some towns is that they have stone floors in their buildings, just like Rebmec, the Capitol of the Hcrat Empire. What stone floors on the local dungeon really meant, was that you can't dig your way out, a big problem when the Hcratians first came up with the idea of local dungeons.

Creston shared this particular cell with another man who had just finished using the bucket in the corner. He said his name is Bod and that he is here because he gets intoxicated every three days and usually insults, breaks, punches, or otherwise damages something that is not his. He never remembers the episode, but everyone in towns assures him that he is doing it.

Bod blames most of his problems on his wife. She happens to weigh a bit more than he and it seems that she uses this advantage very well in their lives. He is the father of three children, (the consummation of which he doesn't remember either).

Creston is just about to tell Bod that he wasn't interested in hearing any more about his family when the little door let in some light. "Creston, Creston of Bastoon, Stand forward and show yourself."

Creston stood at the door.

"Are you Creston of Bastoon?" came from the other side of the door.

"I stood forward didn't I?"

The door opened and Creston stepped into a room about the same size as the one he just exited except it also had a door on the other side, a table with a lit candle and two chairs. The candle and the table were partially blocked by a silhouette of a woman. Creston smiled, "Atina!"

She smiled and rushed into his arms. The man frowned, closed the door of the cell and walked over to the other door. He looked back and said, "I'll give you a bit of privacy. Be quick with your good byes, we haven't much time."

Atina turned and said, "Thank you Larc. I won't forget this." The man smiled and closed the door behind him.

"What are you doing here?" asked Creston.

"Aren't you glad to see me?"

Creston closed his eyes and sighed, "Yes, of course. But if you hadn't noticed, this isn't a woman's quarters. It's a local dungeon."

"I know silly. That's why I'm here. I'm gonna get you out."

Creston smiled, "Now wait a minute Atina. It's not that I don't think you can, but before you free me why don't you tell me what you have planned."

"Well," answered Atina, "I saw and heard what my father did to you and I think it was terrible. And the lies he and Uncle Barten told so that the Magistrate would lock you up. I think it's this new religion that's coming out of the Hcrat Empire. The kinds of laws that they make! `A Woman is not to enjoy the pleasures of the body before getting the Scroll of Joining, blessed by the Priesthood and the Empire, joining her with a man.' It's a stupid law seems to me kind of odd that men aren't included in that law. I mean it doesn't seem quite fair. And if women aren't suppose to, then who do men who aren't Joined to a woman by the priests poke their things into, the sheep in the fields? And anyway, I enjoy men-"

Creston put his finger over her mouth, "Your rambling. Get to the point."

"Anyway, when father found out about Larc and I-"

"Larc?" Creston eyebrow lifted, "You mean I wasn't the first?"

"No, your just the first father liked. Larc's the first," she smiled, "but father doesn't like him. It had become a problem in our relationship. Father knew Larc was courting me and that didn't please him."

Creston mumbled, "I wasn't the first?"

"No, and your not listening to me again. I hate it when you do that. I'm trying to explain what happened."

"Yea, right. Larc's was first." mumbled Creston again.

"Right. And father doesn't like him. So naturally when you came along, with copper for a new horse and more to stay at the inn, father thought you would be a great addition to the family. He was all over town telling everyone how you would be his new son and how great it would be to have a new hand around the house. Me? I saw you as a way to make Larc jealous enough to confront father, which he said he would do once your out of town." She smiled, pleased with herself.

"So what's the plan?" asked Creston.

He didn't want any more of this village and getting out had become a priority. Responsibility for Atina was not his and he refused to get involved. The best answer to this was to get some distance between him and the village.

"Larc knocked out the guard, tied him up and has your horse waiting outside. You simply get on and leave."

"What's to say your father doesn't send the Bow and Arrow after me again."

"He can't. Do you know how long it will take him to earn the copper to pay off those two? He used our family fortune. He wasn't kidding when he said he'd pay anything. He doesn't have it again. Which, by the way, makes Larc more attractive. His father owns the local tavern."

Creston followed her outside to find Larc standing there waiting for them. He felt the need to do something memorable. "Larc, you take care of this woman, or I'll be back to take her for my own." And he kissed her full on the lips until she wrapped her arms around his neck and returned it." He jumped onto his horse and rode towards the edge of the village.

It had been three days since Creston had rode out of the village and it felt good to be in the open air again. He had checked his pack and discovered that nothing had been taken. He still had plenty of foodstuffs. Atina had provided well.

He stopped at the zenith of a small hill to scout out the surroundings. There are a patch of trees that looked like they had large branches and plenty of foliage out in the distance so he decided he would stop there for the night. There had been no pursuit that he could see so he thought that he was clear of the clutches of Yalpsid. He rode nonstop for the past few days, stopping only to water the horse and eat.

Safe enough to rest for the night, he thought. He set up camp and ate a few pieces of jerky and drank some water to wash it all down. Then he tied up the horse for the night, climbed a tree and tied together a hammock across a few of the lower branches and settled in his self. He was low in the branches and he had a full view of the campsite but out of the light of the fire.

He figured the hammock might save him from any surprise visitors again. He wasn't as sure of Atina's plans or her father's to be entirely comfortable. After he had been asleep for a while he is awakened by his horse. Something had spooked it. He opened his eyes and looked down at the clearing and saw a figure running across to his horse, untie it's harness and start to lead it away.

A twig broke underneath him and looked down below. Brohurst, looking for something. Probably me, smiled Creston. So the other must be Goldamn.

Were they stealing his horse? Were they still in the payment of Yalpsid? These and other questions went through Creston's mind as he dropped from the branch towards Brohurst, pulling out his knife as he went down. Landing on him and hitting him in the head with the haft of his knife, Creston caught the man as he went down. One down another coming, thought Creston.

He quickly cut off Brohurst's belt and cut into strips, which he used to secure the man's arms and legs. "Come out of hiding, Goldamn," he called into the darkness. "Out where I can see you and with your hands in plain site, or I kill you partner."

Creston felt a breeze come from behind him and smelled the musk of a man on it, "If you don't start making noise and come out into the open, Brohurst is dead. I shall count to three. One...two...thr-"

Goldamn came out from hiding in foliage to his right side and said, "We came in friendship, Creston. We saw and disapproved of what the village dog did to you. We simply wished to tell you this. We tracked you as soon as they discovered the next day that you were gone."

"And stealing my horse, and sneaking in behind me a moment ago? There wouldn't be another price on my head would there?"

"Well, actually, there is. You see, you escaped from a Hcrat sponsored dungeon. It had a Hcratian Magistrate."

Creston hadn't thought about that. But then he is wanted by more than one Hcratian Magistrate for one reason or another all over the empire. One more wouldn't really matter. He is heading out of the empire anyway. "I want my horse back and a promise on your lodges honor that you will not continue to track me."

"We will not continue to track you because Brohurst and I are a team and you have bested us. You defeated one of us, so you defeat the both of us."

"I want you to swear on you lodge's honor. I learned more than a handshake between that woman's legs so many seasons ago. A Master may not break a pledge made on the honor of his lodge, or he becomes a barbarian. I may not have it right but you try to hard not to swear for me to change my demand that you do." He brought the knife to the neck of Brohurst who was waking.


"Be still Brohurst, or you will die by my hand."

Brohurst saw Goldamn standing in the distance and immediately took in the situation. He said, "How did you take me dog?"

"I have secrets too," answered Creston.

"He fell from the tree and hit you with his knife haft," answered Goldamn.

Brohurst frowned as he tried to move into a more comfortable position. Creston adjusted the knife so that it would cut Brohurst if he kept moving and so he stopped. " You knew your were being followed? You could be a valued member of the Mercenary Guild. I could even sponsor you myself."

Goldamn watched this for a few seconds and said, "He demands a Lodge Oath that we will not follow him or track him for the reward that the Magistrate has offered."

"No," interjected Creston, "I demand one for your life. I will take my chances with Goldamn after I have cut your throat if I don't get one."

"I am offering you a membership in the Guild man. You will have nothing to fear if you become a member. We watch our own."

"I remember the way you watch your own when you thought I was a member of before." answered Creston. "I had to go through a trial by blood that I still owe you a cut for."

"I will not use a lodge oath to save my life."

"But I will," said Goldamn. "You have your oath. We will not follow or make any attempt at capturing you. You have the word of a Master Guildsman from the Karinian Lodge."

"How dare you shame us in-"

"I will not let him kill you."

Creston looked surprised at Goldamn. He is looking at Brohurst with a painful expression that he had seen so many times in the past. In the eyes of women who professed love for him to keep him from leaving their beds. Could it be? The exchange between the two of them left no question once Creston had let go of Brohurst and allowed Goldamn to untie him. There was an embrace and kiss that shocked Creston to getting onto his horse and riding off.

They were to much into themselves to even notice he was riding away. The wages of civilization still puzzle him. Men loving men in the ways of pleasure was something he had only heard about, and he was sure he didn't want to experience it. Women worked out just fine for his tastes. He would go west of the Empire, to the wilderness of the peninsula. There were less civilized people nearer his homeland and his travels had shown him much.

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